Album review: Radiohead, Betty Davis, Diarrhea Planet

Get the scoop on the latest releases from Radiohead, Betty Davis and Diarrhea Planet. Photo: File photo Get the scoop on the latest releases from Radiohead, Betty Davis and Diarrhea Planet. Photo: File photo


A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)

Gotta admit I haven’t adored Radiohead so much as I’ve admired them. The group has always written harmonically sophisticated rock music without ever sacrificing the rock aspect. Plus, the band’s albums have always sounded amazing—the relationship Radiohead has with producer Nigel Godrich is on the level of The Beatles and George Martin. Still, I’ve found Thom Yorke’s bleatier explorations of angst irritating, and it might be telling that my favorite Radiohead album is perhaps its most uncharacteristic, 2007’s casually raucous In Rainbows.

A Moon Shaped Pool doesn’t return to the impassioned, tormented Radiohead of Ok Computer, nor is it casually raucous. As usual Yorke’s interests are alienation, morality and such. But, with exceptions like the billowing, propulsive “Ful Stop,” the overall mood is subdued, with Yorke mostly in repose. The soundscapes mainly showcase Radiohead’s gorgeous amorphous mode—viscous liquid with sonic accents floating through: faint feedback, transmuted piano and a good helping of Jonny Greenwood’s string arrangements. In their third decade of recording, the band still sounds engaged and vital, and if it’s ever okay to call a rock album an “achievement,” Radiohead’s still churning them out, admirably.

Betty Davis

The Columbia Years 1968-1969 (Light in the Attic)

In 1973-74, Betty Davis released a pair of funk-rock albums, slept on at the time but retrospectively accorded lost-classic status. Davis’ snarling vocals demanded attention and held up admirably next to high-octane collaborators including Buddy Miles, Larry Graham and Merle Saunders.

The earlier recordings collected here feature a lineup even more stunning—Herbie Hancock, Mitch Mitchell and Wayne Shorter for starters—and the most famous participant doesn’t play a note: Betty Davis (née Mabry) was briefly married to Miles Davis, who produced most of these sessions. Hearing their interplay feels prurient—before “Politician” (a Cream cover), Miles is playful but menacing: “Sing it just like that, with the gum in your mouth and all, bitch.” The singer apologizes “I know, I know,” but at the end of the track when Miles interjects “You can overdub that,” Betty barks “Overdub it? I’ve overdubbed it!” These demos are raw and loose—they’re almost pre-demos. But Betty Davis is potent and charismatic, especially on “I’m Ready, Willing, and Able”—and the band is smoking. The Columbia Years is a document that was worth preserving.

Diarrhea Planet

Turn To Gold (Dine Alone)

Over-the-top music from the band with the over-the-top name. Diarrhea Planet formed in 2009, slamming audiences with a four-guitar attack as well-coordinated as it was ferocious. Their endearingly scruffy, pumped-up power-pop was captured on early recordings like 2011’s Loose Jewels. That EP was released on the label of fellow Nashvillians Jeff the Brotherhood, and Diarrhea Planet has since tapped into the Brotherhood’s core audience of slumming bros seeking their generation’s hairier, sweatier Blink 182.

As the new title suggests, the underdogs are reaching for the ring, and Turn To Gold is unapologetically pompous. It begins with the ridiculous martial fanfare “Hard Style” and continues with an excessive display of signifiers encompassing hair metal and heartland rock. But at its core, Turn To Gold is arena-ready pop-punk, held together by soaring, variably tuneful vocalist Jordan Smith. On the lead single he eagerly shouts “You probably think I’m too old for this, but I / think you’d know what I’d say / I’ve got a…LIFE PASS!” No doubt, Diarrhea Planet is having a blast—whether you’ll enjoy the party or not is a germane question.